Du Preez, Kirsten
Versfeld, Josephine F.
Format Extent1 artwork
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Copyright Stellenbosch University
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Description of Artwork Miriam Makeba, or ‘Mama Africa’, combined jazz and traditional African song to create her unique sound. Through her work she advocated against apartheid. Makeba was born to a domestic worker and traditional healer mother and a school teacher father. She grew up in vibrant Sophiatown where beer brewing, gangsters, an emerging music scene and late-night dancing were part of everyday life. Her career started in the shebeens of Sophiatown, where she sang with two bands as well as her all-women group, the Skylarks. Makeba left South Africa in the 1960s, only to find herself banned from returning by the South African government for being too revolutionary. After she spoke out against apartheid at the United Nations General Assembly in 1963, her records were also banned in South Africa until 1988. The early to mid-1960s marked the height of her career when many of her best songs and performances took place. In America Makeba found fame, recognition and friendship, but many of her concerts were cancelled and albums boycotted after she married American black power activist, Stokely Carmichael, in 1968. The 1980s was a difficult time for Makeba, starting when her only child, Bongi, died after complications in childbirth. She struggled with alcohol abuse following Bongi’s death and also battled cervical cancer. Makeba turned to religion and music to help overcome her difficulties, releasing two albums and an autobiography. After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, he persuaded her to return to South Africa, lifting her ban. She later served as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, and also founded the Makeba Rehabilitation Centre for Girls, helping young women to become independent. Miriam Makeba is world renowned for the extraordinary music she made for over 50 years, but one of the most memorable things about her was her determination to always be honest – in both her music and the way she expressed her unique identity.
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